The Senedd’s Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee has published their report today on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Wales and warned the crisis has entrenched existing inequalities in Wales and the response is widening those inequalities, by reducing incomes and increasing risks disproportionately for already disadvantaged groups of people.
Highlighting the degree to which the chances of dying, becoming unemployed or falling behind in education have, in part, been determined by age, race, gender, disability, income and where people live, the report confirms:
▪ Poverty has been a key determinant in the pandemic, from mortality rates to the risk of losing work or income, and educational attainment to overcrowded housing. People from certain ethnic groups, children, disabled people, carers, those living in private rented housing or working in certain sectors are all more likely to experience poverty. 44% of single parents, 90% of whom are women, live in poverty in Wales.
▪ Men, older people, people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, people with existing health conditions, disabled people and people living in deprived areas have higher coronavirus mortality rates.
▪ Low earners, young people, women, and people of Bangladeshi, Black Caribbean and Pakistani ethnicity are more likely to work in sectors shut down due to the pandemic. When these groups intersect the risk is compounded – for example 39% of all female employees under 25 work in shut-down sectors in Wales.
▪ Almost half of the lowest earners in Wales are employed in ‘shut down’ sectors, and they are ten times as likely as the highest earners to work in these sectors.
▪ Women make up the majority of health and care staff and have taken on most of the unpaid care of children and relatives.
▪ There are fears that children with the lowest educational attainment before the pandemic will have fallen further behind their peers, such as boys, children of certain ethnicities, and those with SEN/ALN.
▪ Disabled people are particularly affected by social distancing and the changes to our built environment.
▪ As well as being most at risk of the virus, older people have experienced additional distress due to fears about access to treatment and care, isolation due to shielding, and abuse.
▪ Migrants are at particular risk of destitution due to being more likely to work in shut down sectors but also their restricted access to benefits and other public funds.
In setting out a series of recommendations for the Welsh Government, the committee asserts the recovery must be targeted at those who have lost the most, and this opportunity must be used to rectify existing inequalities.
It also stressed the need for immediate action, rather than the production of more strategies and calls for improved data and citizen engagement to ensure interventions are targeted and do not create additional barriers.
Acknowledging the disastrous impact on the Welsh economy, with workers losing income through furloughing, reductions in hours or pay, job losses and many businesses that have had to shut down, the report also warns of a spike in redundancies when the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme finishes in October.
The committee says it is critical these people can access support and advice on their rights and entitlements in relation to employment and benefits.
John Griffiths MS, Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, commenting on the report’s findings, said: “Although the Welsh Government has provided some support, the evidence we have gathered demonstrates that this commitment to equality and human rights must now move beyond the immediate situation and begin to plan for a fairer Wales. Alongside the Black Lives Matter movement too, this period has shone an uncomfortable light on inequalities in our society that already existed.
“The UK Government’s ‘furlough’ scheme will soon come to an end and many could lose their jobs at the end of it, it’s critical that people know their rights and what support is available to them to stop people falling into crisis as we move into the next phase of the crisis.
“Our report today sets out significant recommendations for the Welsh Government. We must learn from what’s happened and do all we can to help those hit hardest by this cruel pandemic.